NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — U.S. Sen. Ed Markey on Tuesday exhorted New Bedford residents to get immunized against COVID-19, as the city’s vaccination rate remains well below the statewide average.
Home from Washington due to the Senate recess, Markey stopped in New Bedford to tour a federally funded vaccination clinic at the McCoy Recreation Center in the West End. The clinic, which is targeting senior citizens, received an extra supply of 1,000 Johnson & Johnson doses this week on top of its usual allotment of 600 Moderna shots.
“New Bedford is a little bit below the state average, so the message to the residents of New Bedford is very clear: we want to get you vaccinated,” Markey said.
Data reviewed by Target 12 shows all four cities in Bristol County are lagging behind the statewide pace of inoculations.
While 35% of all Massachusetts residents were at least partly vaccinated as of April 1, only 21% of New Bedford residents have gotten at least one shot. The rates were also below average in Fall River (22%), Attleboro (25%) and Taunton (25%).
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said “deep-seated” challenges are driving the comparatively low level of vaccinations in his city. He cited a lack of access to technology in order to make appointments online, language barriers, and jobs with limited flexibility.
“We have lots of people who work in industrial settings, who work on fishing boats out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, who cannot readily leave work to go get a shot,” said Mitchell, a five-term Democrat. “It’s a major inconvenience for a lot of them.”
“Right from the beginning it’s been very clear that people who Skype to work are a lot less affected by this pandemic than people who do not Skype to work,” Markey added. “And we know who those people are — they’re Black, they’re brown, they’re immigrants, they’re poor, they’re homeless, and they’ve been disproportionately impacted by this crisis.”
However, the mayor expressed optimism about the outlook as an increasing number of facilities offer vaccinations and the overall supply continues to grow.
“It is just starting to turn,” Mitchell said.
Markey — who was making his first visit to New Bedford since he won last year’s hard-fought Democratic Senate primary against Joe Kennedy — also touted “a massive amount of assistance to the city of New Bedford” that he said is on the way due to President Biden’s newly enacted American Rescue Plan Act.
The city will receive an estimated $88 million in direct federal aid, plus another $40 million for its K-12 schools, along with millions of dollars in more targeted grants to fund the vaccination campaign and other efforts, according to the senator’s office.
Markey expressed optimism about how the city might benefit from Biden’s proposed $2.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is currently being hashed out among congressional Democrats. He said he was pleased about a ruling Monday by the Senate parliamentarian that could allow his colleagues to pass the measure on a party-line vote.
“If we’re going to have an infrastructure bill, that says to New Bedford, you’re going to find the funding for your water projects, for your clean drinking projects, for the wind projects off of the coastline — the staging area to ensure that this new industry is centered here in New Bedford,” he said.
With a New England native now in charge of the U.S. Commerce Department — former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo — Markey and Mitchell both said they have already had initial discussions with her about expanding the footprint of the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in New Bedford.
Markey reiterated the position he took during last year’s Senate primary debate on WPRI 12, shying away from the idea of relocating NOAA’s Woods Hole Laboratory to New Bedford but saying he wants to “find the right role for New Bedford to partner with Woods Hole to make sure that this whole area is the center for research for the entire United States of America.”
New Bedford has been the top fishing port in the nation for 19 straight years, with its boats grossing more than $430 million annually, according to federal data.
Mitchell said he spoke briefly with Raimondo on a recent conference call organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and was pleased to hear the knowledge she brings to the job.
“She’s somebody who, probably unlike anybody else who’s held that position previously, has no learning curve when it comes to the arcana of fisheries regulations and the fishing economy,” he said. “I think she’s up to speed on all of it.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.